I was sitting in federal court just this week, when a U.S. Magistrate ruled that a young African American male defendant must remain in jail until trial. Innocent until proven guilty. Yet detained. The judge quoted William Rehnquist and stated, "In our society liberty is the norm, and detention prior to trial is the carefully limited exception."
The defendant was accused of a drug crime, Conspiracy to Distribute One Kilogram of Heroin. However, the defendant was 27 years old, had half a dozen previous convictions for drug violations and violent crimes, had spent 2 years in juvenile detention and multiple years in prison as an adult, had violated probation every time he was released from jail or prison, and had shot at least one person during his latest case. The "drug law" is a tool that law enforcement uses to catch violent, murderous, gang members. Drug crimes do not need witnesses. And there are 'no witnesses,' as they say, where this defendant lives.
The defendant had never had a job, had never applied for a job, was receiving $250 a month in food stamps (really just a credit card with $250), and was living in his mother's public assistance housing. His mother worked two full time jobs. His father, was unknown. His mother did have a live-in boyfriend, who also did not work.
The only thing the defendant had ever done was sell drugs, shoot people, collect welfare, and live off of the earnings of his single mother.
Yes, the defendant was an African American. But so was the U.S. Magistrate that ordered him detained.
Eric Holder, is right. The U.S. Magistrate was right. The system is not working. But it is not the U.S. Justice System that is broke. That is the only "system" that was working in this matter.
I too am tormented by the number of young African American men in our jails and prisons. But allowing them to break the laws, or removing the laws, is not the solution.
These men, these generations, can not be saved. We must focus on the future.
Children need mothers and fathers. They need brothers and sisters. They need family. And the family's first priority is the safety and security of the family. This defendant had a mother, a grandmother, a brother and a sister. But without a father, a good father, everything crumbled. The government can provide a credit card, and a roof over his head, but it is not enough. It is a trap. A trap that disguises itself as a "safety net." But the net wraps around them, and they never escape.
Eric Holder, as mentioned in the article, has directed the Department of Justice federal prosecutors to avoid charging defendants with crimes that receive "harsh" mandatory minimum sentences. The defendant above is charged with such an offense. In our justice system, after two felony drug convictions, the defendant could face a minimum of 20 years in prison, if convicted. 30 years if he is charged with possessing the weapon he used during the case. A mandatory minimum of 30 years.
However, if the defendant were to plead guilty, and agree to testify against his co-defendants, he could be sentenced to 5 or 10 years. Remember, he has 4 prior drug trafficking convictions (trafficking, not using), an armed robbery conviction, and during the current case, he shot a young man after a confrontation at a high school basketball game (the victim refused to cooperate with the police). The mandatory minimum laws give law enforcement leverage to get the defendant to testify against his co-conspirators.
Final two points:
To Holder's credit, the defendant in this case does not fit Holder's criteria for avoiding mandatory minimums, as he is part of a violent gang. But what will Holder say when he realized there are virtually no defendants fitting his criteria?
The defendant, at this point, has accepted the higher mandatory minimums, and has refused to cooperate against his fellow gang members. It is likely that he will be sentenced to 20 years mandatory minimum...which could be reduced to 15 years (nothing in the federal system is that simple).